Your baby’s legal status
In legal terms, a loss before 24 weeks is called a miscarriage. A loss after 24 weeks is called stillbirth. This is because a baby is thought to have a good chance of surviving if they are born alive at 24 weeks.
This means that if you lose a baby before 24 weeks, there is no legal requirement to have a burial or cremation. It also means that no legal certificate is provided.
This terminology can be very upsetting for some parents because there is no legal recognition that their baby existed. However, we believe that no matter when you miscarry, you are entitled to grieve for your loss.
Finding a way to commemorate your loss can help. Find out more about remembering your baby after miscarriage.
Burial or cremations
Although there is no legal requirement to have a burial or cremation, some hospitals offer burials or cremations for miscarried babies. Sometimes a number of babies are buried or cremated together.
Unfortunately, some hospitals are still not able to offer this and treat the remains of early loss as clinical waste unless you request otherwise.
You can ask your nurse, midwife, the hospital chaplain, PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison) officer or hospital service about the arrangements at your hospital.
You may want to make your own arrangements for a burial or cremation. Some people chose to use a funeral director or specialist cremation service, or choose to bury the remains at home or somewhere else.
A certificate for your baby
Although there is no legal certificate for a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks, some hospitals do provide them. If you haven’t been given a certificate but would like one, ask a nurse where you were cared for, the hospital chaplain, the PALS officer or hospital bereavement service. Some hospitals also have a book of remembrance.
If you miscarry at home
If you miscarry early outside of a hospital, for example at home, your pregnancy might come away naturally. Some women pass the remains in a toilet and simply flush it away, while others want to take a closer look. Both reactions are completely natural.
Some women want a healthcare professional to confirm that that they have miscarried, so you could contact your midwife, GP or hospital and ask what to do next. They may be able to do some tests on the remains, although they aren’t usually done unless you are having other investigations.
If you want, you can ask the hospital or GP to dispose of the remains or you may decide to bury them yourself at home, in a setting you are comfortable with.
If you have a late miscarriage, it would be unlikely that you would deliver at home, unless it was unexpected. If this happens, call an ambulance or ask someone to take you to hospital.
After a late miscarriage, most hospitals offer some tests, which may involve tests of the baby. This is called a post-mortem. A post mortem (also known as an autopsy) is a medical examination of your baby’s body to try to work out the cause of death. This will not be done without your consent (permission).
A post-mortem involves examining the baby carefully, outside and inside the body and can take up to several hours to do. Afterwards, the incisions made to examine your baby internally will be repaired where possible. If you want, your baby can be wrapped or dressed to hide any marks. You can see your baby again afterwards if you want to.
You may have lots of questions about how and where it is performed, and what the results might tell you. Talk to the midwife and doctors caring for you about your concerns and questions.
It may be several weeks before the results are ready. Your doctor or GP will probably invite you to a follow-up appointment to talk about the results. Unfortunately, a post-mortem does not always provide a reason for a miscarriage, so you may not find out why your baby died. But it may help rule out some possibilities and perhaps reassure you if you want to try to get pregnant again in the future.